Monday, April 6, 2015

Lettering: Alvin R. Dunton, Master Penman

1812, Hope, Maine — October 8, 1891, Camden, Maine
Marriage and census records have birth years ranging from 1810 to 1818.

First Exhibition and Fair of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at Faneuil and Quincy Halls, in the City of Boston, September 18, 1837
Dutton & Wentworth, 1837
Reportd of the Judges.
804. A. R. Dunton, Boston. Six Frames Penmanship. Undoubtedly the best specimens. The struck lettering is admirably done, and seems scarcely susceptible of improvement. The mercantile hand is excellent—the whole evincing great labor and reflecting credit on this chirographist. Silver Medal.

The Original Duntonian System of Rapid Writing
Alvin R. Dunton
Whittemore, Niles & Hall, 1841

The Fifth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at Faneuil and Quincy Halls, in the City of Boston, September, 1847
1386. A. R. Dunton, Boston. Two Frames, containing Specimens of Penmanship.

1850 United States Federal Census
Bangor, Maine
Name / Age
A R Dunton 40 (Teacher)
Wm Scribner 30 (Teacher)
Adalaide Scribner 22

The Boston Almanac for the Year 1850
Dunton A.R. (penmanship) 5 1/2 Tremont row

Payson and Dunton’s Chirographic Chart
Alvin R. Dunton, Jesse Wentworth Payson, Seldom Dunton
Crosby, Nichols & Company, 1852

The Boston Almanac for the Year 1853
Dunton A. R. & Co. 228 Wash.

The Boston Directory 1854
Dunton Alvin R. & Wm. M. Scribner, teachers penmanship and bookkeeping, 228 Wash.

Boston Semi-Weekly Courier
October 11, 1855
Oct 8 by Rev A A Miner, Alvin R Dunton to Miss Laura L Pendleton.

Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988
Name: Alvin R Dunton
Age: 38
Date: 8 Oct 1855
Place: Boston, Massachusetts
Father’s name: Abner
Spouse’s Name: Laura L Pendleton
Age: 19
Spouse’s Father’s Name: Simeon Pendleton

New-York Daily Tribune
(New York)
April 5, 1856
Advertisement for the revised edition of A. R. Dunton’s The Original Duntonian System of Rapid Writing

Harper’s Weekly
(New York, New York)
March 14, 1857

A. R. Dunton and J.V.R. Champman Calligraphic Chart
Alvin R. Dunton, J. V. R. Chapman
Whittemore, Niles and Hall, 1857

American Educational Year-Book for 1857
James Robinson and Company, 1857
Advertisement for Duntonian System of Rapid Writing

The American Educational Year-Book
February, 1858
James Robinson and Company, 1858
To Teachers and School Committees.
Get the Best System of Writing,
A. R. Dunton has recently given instruction in the art of Penmanship at the Normal and Model Schools in this place, also was employed to instruct in the Institutes in this State. I did not decide to adopt Mr. Dunton’s system until I had given it a thorough examination, and compared it with many others.

A Defence [of the Duntonian System of Penmanship]
Alvin R. Dunton

Payson, Dunton & Scribners Chirographic Chart
Alvin R. Dunton, Jesse Wentworth Payson, Seldom Dunton, William M. Scribner, Payson, Dunton & Scribner
Crosby, Nichols & Company, 1858

Library of Congress
American Memory
Below: Two samples of penmanship from A. R. Dunton & Chapman’s disciplinarian for schools of all grades. Boston, c. 1859

1860 United States Federal Census
(enumerated June 13)
Boston, Massachusetts
Name / Age
Lavinia B Pendleton 50 (Dunton’s mother-in-law)
Lavinia B Pendleton 16
Mary E Pendleton 14
Ellen F Pendleton 12
Aubrey M Pendleton 24
Wm A Sprague 30
Octavia O Sprague 25
Frank A Sprague 6
Alvin R Dunton 45 (Professor of Writing)
Laura S Dunton 22

1860 United States Federal Census
(enumerated July 21)
Follett House, Ypsilanti, Michigan
Name / Age
Alvin R Dunton 42 (Professor)
Laura S Dunton 22

Loomis & Talbott’s Ypsilanti City Directory and Business Mirror, 1860–61
Dunton A. R. & Lady, Profs. of penmanship, bds, Foilett House

Twenty-fourth Annual Report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction of the State of Michigan
Hosmer & Kerr, 1861
No. 7
State Teachers’ Institutes
…The following gentlemen delivered evening lectures or gave instructions in the Institutes: …and Prof. A. R. Dunton and Lady, of Boston, Mass. I have to acknowledge my obligations for the ready and valuable co-operation, not only of the lecturers and teachers above named, but also of the Press and SchooL officers of the several counties in which the Institutes were held….

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, City Directory, 1865
Dunton Alvin, R., teacher. 1304 Chestnut

M’Elroy’s Business Directory, 1866
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dunton A. R., writing school, 1304 Chestnut

The Philadelphia Inquirer
October 18, 1867

1870 United States Federal Census
Boston, Massachusetts
Name / Age
Alvin R Dunton 55 (Artist Penman)

The Massachusetts Teacher
September 1870
…What is teaching? Let us illustrate. Take penmanship. Some years ago there appeared in Boston, one A. R. Dunton. He was a masterly penman, and understood the whole matter of penmanship, root and branch. He had a system of writing he wished to introduce into the schools. He called the teachers together and explained it to them; gave them a series of lessons to show them how to teach it; went into the schools and showed how to teach it to the scholars; and the consequence was a remarkable change in the condition of this branch of study in the Boston schools. Before, writing was practised in all the schools a stated length of time, and a certain number of books used up. The copy was placed before the scholar, and he was told to work slowly and try to imitate that copy. Some having a natural gift in that direction succeeded pretty well, but most would write a very bad line under the copy and spend the writing hour in imitating that. In only a few schools was there a different state of things. It is evident that though there was much that was called writing practised, there was very little teaching. But mark the change. The teachers had found out there was an art of penmanship its principles had been explained to them, they understood it, they were earnest and enthusiastic in regard to it. They no longer spent the writing hour adding credits or writing letters to their friends; but were at the black-board showing what was to be done, and how it was to be done, anticipating difficulties and showing how to overcome them; were going from scholar to scholar giving such individual instruction and help as was needed. This was teaching, true teaching. The result was marvellous. The teachers taught writing, and even the most unskilful scholars learned to write.

Nashville Union and American
June 22, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Columbia Herald
September 22, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Columbia Herald
September 29, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Bolivar Bulletin
October 6, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

Macon Beacon
October 7, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Columbia Herald
October 13, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Home Journal
(Winchester, Tennessee)
October 19, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Columbia Herald
October 27, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Home Journal
(Winchester, Tennessee)
November 9, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Columbia Herald
November 17, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Bolivar Bulletin
December 1, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Weekly Democratic Statesman
(Austin, Texas)
December 14, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Weekly Clarion
(Jackson, Mississippi)
December 28, 1871
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

Dallas Herald
January 6, 1872
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

The Home Journal
(Winchester, Tennessee)
February 29, 1872
Advertisement includes Duntonian Writing-Books

Greenough, Jones & Co.’s Boston Business Directory
January 1873
Dunton A. R., artist penman, 14 Tremont

Writing Primer Introductory to the Duntonian Copy Books
Alvin R. Dunton, J. W. C. Gilman, Ambrose Herriman
Lee & Shepard, 1873

Twelfth Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association at Faneuil and Quincy Halls, in the City of Boston
September and October 1874
Dunton, A. R. & Co., Boston, Pen Drawing.

The Massachusetts Register and Business Directory, 1874
Dunton A. R. 34 School

Rockland, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1875
Dunton A. R. h. Ocean avenue

Rockland, Maine, City Directory, 1877
Dunton A. R., artist penman, house Ocean avenue

Manual of Free-hand Penmanship
Alvin R. Dunton, B. Harrison, J. W. C. Gilman, John D. Williams, Silas Sadler Packard
J.W.C. Gilman & Company, 1877

Greenough’s Directory of Rockland, Belfast & Camden, 1877–8
Dunton A. R., artist penman, house Ocean avenue 

Free-hand Duntonian Penmanship Series: For Primary Schools
Alvin R. Dunton
J.W.C. Gilman, 1878

Free-hand Duntonian Penmanship Series: Movement Drill Book
Alvin R. Dunton, B. Harrison
J.W.C. Gilman, 1878

Duntonian Duplex Copy Books
Alvin R. Dunton
J.W.C. Gilman & Company, 1879

1880 United States Federal Census
Camden, Maine
Name / Age
A.R. Dunton 65 (Widower; Teacher of Penmanship)

The Evening Auburnian
(Auburn, New York)
February 16, 1881
“An Interesting Lawsuit”
The Peculiar Case Judge Dwight and a Jury Will Have to Decide.
Judge Dwight will have an interesting suit to try in court at Lyons next week. The case is Sprague vs. Lovett. The Rochester Herald says: 

“In the complaint, as printed, the story connected with the suit is given as follows: Mrs. Laura Dunton, a woman of fine personal appearance and possessed of great tact and shrewdness, coupled with an ambition which, it is charged, stopped at nothing when she had an object to attain, was married to Alvin R. Dunton, who was her inferior in almost every respect and whom she moulded to her purposes. They resided at Palmyra and had been married some eleven years, during which time they had lived together harmoniously. Also residing in Palmyra was Joseph C. Lovett, a man of large means, a married man with two children, a son Edward and a daughter Minnie. In 1866 Mrs. Dunton, it is alleged, became very intimate with Lovett, and in a short time had him almost wholly under her control. She visited New York and other places with him, and while there—so goes the story—the two, if not passing as man and wife, at least to all intents and purposes acted as such. In 1868 the wife of Lovett died, and soon thereafter he, it is alleged, installed Mrs. Dunton in his house as governess over his children. She remained in this position for about three years, still bearing the name of Mrs. Dunton and remaining on good terms with her husband. She, however, about this time, it is claimed, made a bargain with her husband that in consideration of the payment of $500 annually during his life, he should furnish her with evidence sufficient to enable her to procure a divorce from him on the ground of infidelity. With this object in view he came to this city with a friend, whom he allowed to gain sufficient proof to convict him of the charge. Proceedings for divorce were at once instituted by Mrs. Dunton, the case went by default and the decree was granted. On the trial Mrs. Dunton, it is charged, sworn that she had not instigated the commission of adultery, and it was not done with her connivance. One week after granting her decree Mrs. Dunton married Joseph Lovett, while, according to the complaint, he was in a grossly intoxicated condition, and immediately assumed the position of mistress in his house. The marriage took place in June, 1871, and from that time until the death of Lovett, which occurred in June, 1872, she remained in his house, and during the whole time maintained her influence over him. She, it is alleged, persuaded him to appoint her executrix of his will, and on his death took complete control of his property, including that willed by the deceased to his children. The son Edward, who was not in good health, made his home with his step mother, and became subject to her influence, completely deferring to her in all things. She, it is said, induced him to insure his life for a large amount, in her favor, and also to execute to her, without consideration, a deed for property willed him by his father. At his death which occurred in December, 1873, Mrs. Lovett retained possession of the property, which it is alleged, she used for her own ends, and for which it is further alleged, she had made no account to either of the children. In 1874 the daughter Minnie married a young man named Frank A. Sprague, who survived the marriage but one month. His life it is said, was also insured for a large amount in favor of Mrs. Lovett. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Sprague returned to the home of her step-mother, and while there was, it is said, induced by misrepresentations and undue influence on the part of Mrs. Lovett to give a power of attorney to Mrs. Lovett and relinquish the care of her business solely to her stepmother. The daughter, so the complaint states, was also subsequently persuaded by Mrs. Lovett, in consideration of an annuity of $750 guaranteed her, to give up all claim whatsoever to the property left by her father and bother. In 1875 Mrs. Sprague left the home of Mrs. Lovett and subsequently, at the suggestions of friends who had become acquainted with the facts in the case, began suit against Mrs. Lovett for the property obtained by reason of these alleged false and fraudulent representations. The property at the death of Joseph Lovett was estimated at $150,000 but has since, by reason of the alleged extravagance of Mrs. Lovett, been reduced materially. The prosecution, after setting forth the foregoing allegations, will charge that by reason of the fraud used in procuring the divorce the marriage was not valid, and that consequently the subsequent transactions are also invalidated. In addition, it will be claimed that undue influence was exercised on all the members of the Lovett family, and that gross fraud and misrepresentation were employed throughout. The defense, it is intimated, will deny all the above allegations of undue influence and fraud. The case will be stubbornly contested and the lawyers employed will be assisted by eminent counsel.

New York Evening Express
(Auburn, New York)
May 30, 1881
“A Woman’s Deep Plot”
Litigation Over a Divorce, a Will, and a Large Sum of Money.
Intrigue and Scheming
A Daughter Beggared by the Woman ho Wrecked Her Father’s Life
Lyons, N. Y., May 30.—One of the most remarkable lawsuits has just been postponed until the next term of the Circuit Court in this place. The counsel for the plaintiff has outlined his case with the following startling story: In 1861, J. C. Lovett was a resident of Palmyra, N. Y., where he had resided for some time, and in his business it was understood he had acquired a handsome fortune. He had been a careful, prudent business man, and had the confidence of the entire community. In the year named his wife was living, though an invalid, and there were two children, Edward, aged 18, and Minnie, the plaintiff in the present suit, was then about 10 years old. In the year above mentioned Alvin R. Dunton, and Laura, his wife, went to Palmyra and engaged in teaching writing. They boarded next door to Mr. Lovett’s residence. “It is believed,” said the counsel, that Mrs. Dunton soon after forming the acquaintance of I.ovett formed the settled purpose to obtain control of his large estate. The obstacles then in the way were these: Mrs. Lovett, Mr. Dunton, Lovett himself, and the children, Edward and Minnie. They would seem formidable, but we shall see the result. From Palmyra Mr. Dunton and his wife went to Rochester. Mr. Dunton had been for some time ill, and his illness was more serious after leaving Palmyra. They subsequently went to Danville, Avon, and Clifton Springs. About 1864 they removed to Philadelphia, Mr. Dunton’s health continuing very poor. They resided mainly in Philadelphia until I860. During all this time the intimacy between Lovett and the defendant continued. Their correspondence was after the manner of lovers. On one occasion Lovett took Mrs. Dunton to Long Branch, New York, and Boston.

The First Obstacle Removed.
In 1868 Mrs. Lovett died, so the first obstacle is removed. Propositions looking toward a divorce are made to Dunton and repeatedly rejected. In 1879 Lovett took the defendant to his home where she remained. In 1871 a divorce was again urged, and Mr. Dunton, sick and discouraged in an hour of weakness, consented to the arrangement proposed. A divorce was obtained. One week after the divorce Lovett married Mrs. Dunton, and while in a state of gross intoxication. Another step in defendant’s design. Lovett continued almost constantly under the influence of liquor, and died in June, 1872. Almost immediately upon her application, Mrs. Lovett, the defendant, with Mr. Lonsbury, were appointed to administer upon the estate. Another obstacle removed. Edward, the son, remonstrated with his father when the defendant first came to live with him and was driven from home. When the father died and she saw he was heir to one-half of his property, she with the aid of a sister won his friendship. In the spring of 1873 the defendant made application for insurance on Edward’s life for about $100,000; $40,000 of insurance was obtained, and for the benefit of herself and her sister. In September of the same year Edward gave defendant a power of attorney to transact all business for him; his habits had become bad. In November he deeds his property to defendant. This deed was not recorded until December, 1874. December 2, 1873, Edward died. Defendant immediately procures letters of administration. Another step to the accomplishment of the purpose. The plaintiff, Minnie Lovett (subsequently married to a Mr. Sprague), now stands alone between defendant and the consummation of her plans. Minnie was enjoined by her father to heed all the wishes of defendant and treat her as a mother. Minnie was excluded from society, and defendant exercised complete control over her. She was a minor when her father died, and the very day she became of age she gave defendant a power of attorney to manage her affairs.

A Daughter Kept in Ignorance.
Minnie was kept in entire ignorance of the amount of her father’s estate, and of the manner of its management. In August, 1874, Minnie married Frank Sprague. and removed to New York, and in October of the same year he “suddenly sickens and dies.” Doubly orphaned and widowed, she returns to Palmyra, and soon is induced to sign what is called “an agreement,” which proves to be a deed. The treatment she receives at the hands of the defendant finally arouses her suspicions, and she communicates with Mr. and Mrs. Powell, whose acquaintance she had formed. Mr. Powell employed an attorney to investigate, and he found the record of the deeds. Minnie (Mrs. Sprague) is advised by counsel to leave Palmyra, and with some difficulty she escapes from the home of defendant. It was found that the personal property of Mr. Lovett inventoried at about $73,000. The real property he owned at the time of his death is worth from $30,000 to $40,000. Out of all this amount the plaintiff has received some $2,800. To-day she is penniless, dependent on the charity of strangers. The defendant has also appropriated $10,000 or $15,000 rents. The defendant persuaded plaintiff to give away most of the money received on insurance policies on her husband’s life—then borrowed the remainder, and refuses to repay it.” The plaintiff, Minnie Lovett Sprague, brings suit to set aside the conveyances—to compel an accounting of the administrators, etc. Issues were settled some time ago by the court, and certain questions of fact are to be passed upon by the jury, including the legality of the Dunton divorce, etc., etc.

The True Story of the Hart-Meservey Murder Trial
In which Light is Thrown Upon Dark Deeds, Incompetency, and Perfidy: and Crime Fastened Upon Those Whose Position, If Not Manhood, Should Have Commanded Honest Dealing
Alvin R. Dunton, Nathan F. Hart

The Universalist Quarterly and General Review
Volume 20
A. Tompkins, 1883
The True Story of the Hart-Meservey Murder Trial, in which Light is thrown upon Dark Deeds, Incompetency, and Perfidy; and Crime fastened upon those whose position, if not manhood, should have commanded Honest Dealing. By Alvin R. Dunton, Camden, Maine; Author of the Duntonian System of Penmanship; and the oldest expert on hand-writing in the U. S.

This book gives the history of a murder trial in Maine in 1878, which is destined to take its place among the celebrated trials of the world. It has caused much talk in that State and shows not only the danger of circumstantial evidence in such cases, but the danger also of possible perjury. We understand that a new trial has been granted to Hart, who seems to have been the victim of a foul conspiracy. Those who have restored capital punishment in Maine, may well ask. What would have been the fate of Hart had capital punishment been in force at the time of this trial? Reading this book may at least reveal to them the dangers and possibilities of their recent action.

Rockland, Maine, City Directory, 1885
Dunton Alvin R., artist penman, house Ocean avenue

Rockland, Maine, City Directory, 1885
Teachers (Penmanship)
Dunton Alvin R., Ocean av., Camden

Belfast, Maine, City Directory, 1890
Dunton Alvin R., h. Ocean ave

The Sun
(New York)
October 9, 1891

Worcester Daily Spy
October 9, 1891
Alvin R. Dunton, professor of penmanship, died at Camden, Me., yesterday, aged 79 years. He was the author of the Dunton system of penmanship and has been professor of penmanship since his early manhood. He was champion of the world at middle age and had few equals with the pen even at an advanced age. He had taught penmanship in nearly every state in the Union.

Penman’s Art Journal and Penman’s Gazette
November 1891
Death of A. R. Dunton
A.R. Dunton, one of the old pillars of the penmanship profession, died at his home in Camden, Me., Oct. 8, at the ripe age of 79 years.

There is not a penman in the country who is unfamiliar with the fame of A.R. Dunton. Indeed his reputation was by no means confined to the profession, but his services to the whole people in the cause of penmanship are very generally known and appreciated. He may be truly called one of the pioneers of modern penmanship, occupying much the same relation to this art in the East as Mr. Platt R. Spencer did in the West and subsequently in the whole country.

Alvin Robbins Dunton was born in what is now Knox County, Maine, in 1812. Naturally gifted with great manual dexterity he distinguished himself by his expertness with a pen while still a small lad. These were the days before printed copy-books. Young Dunton was a good enough penman at 13 to be called upon by his teacher to set copies for the school. It was not until 1835, however, that he began teaching penmanship as a profession. His first school was at Hale’s Mill, Mass. Shortly after he began the career of a traveling teacher, traversing New England and subsequently the Western, Middle and Southern States, until he had covered the entire country.

In those early days two styles of writing were in use. One of them, most in vogue, was the old English heavy round hand; the other a sharp, angular hand. Mr. Dunton was one of the first to recognize the disadvantages of these styles, especially for business purposes, and from them he constructed a modified style of his own, possessing great advantages in the matter of ease and speed of execution, while preserving a due regard for the quality of beauty. This “A. R. Dunton style,” with slight modifications, he used up to the time of his death, and thousands of writers also make use of it.

Mr. Dunton was one of the first to realize the importance of uniformity of style and method in teaching penmanship. As far back as 1841 he established what he denominated “concert drill.” This consisted in every pupil using the same kind of ink, the same kind of pen and paper, and all taking the same position at the desk, pens all held in the same manner; then, with a uniform movement, as in a military drill, at the word of command the pens were carried to the inkstand; on a second order they took ink and on a third brought the pens back in position for writing. The first movement he taught was the arm movement and then arm and finger combined. In these exercises the entire class was required to make the movements in concert, with a regularity similar to beating time for music. This practice was continued until it became familiar, thus giving pupils an easy, free and graceful movement of the pen.

Mr. Dunton published his first series of copy-books in New Orleans, in 1843. There were four books, two for the use of girls and two for boys. At one time he was associated with Mr. Payson, afterward of the firm Payson, Dunton & Scribner, whose copy-books are well known. The Dunton of this firm, however, is a different man, and the system published by A. R. Dunton was distinguished by the term “Duntonian.”

Besides being a teacher of uncommon originality and strength, Mr. Dunton was himself a splendid penman, both in the execution of script and ornamental work. Some of his ornamental designs are executed with a delicacy of stroke that can only be matched by the finest steel engravings. For one piece, made on occasion of the opening of the Union Pacific Railroad in 1867, he received $1000. As an evidence of his great skill in this direction it is related that an English writing master, who had made an exhibit of his work at the Mechanics’ Fair in Boston in 1840, complained that certain specimens exhibited by Mr. Dunton were fraudulent, on the ground that they were produced by steel engraving and not with a pen—that the fineness of the work was evidence of its impossibility of production by means of a pen. This led to an investigation by the committee, and Mr. Dunton fortunately set everything to rights by executing offhand specimens which exhibited his remarkable talent quite as well as those he had placed on exhibition. In a word, Mr. Dunton was one of the great masters of his art and impressed his individuality on thousands of his countrymen. One of his chief gifts was a wonderful quickness of motion and sight, and a favorite diversion of his was sleight-of-hand tricks, at which he was remarkably expert. Mr. Packard once introduced him to the Business Educators’ Association as a man who “could out-Houdin Houdin,” and the feats that followed fully justified the claim. The Editor, while entertaining Mr. Dunton at his home, has seen him perform such feats of legerdemain as he has never seen surpassed by any of the professional prestidigitators. Besides his many accomplishments Mr. Dunton was a man of large heart and broad sympathies, and his death will be sincerely lamented by the thousands of warm personal friends.

The Original Duntonian System of Rapid Writing
Alvin R. Dunton, J. W. C. Gilman
Thompson, Brown & Company, 1893

Duntonian Vertical Writing: Short Course
Alvin R. Dunton
Thompson, Brown & Company, 1897

A Bibliography of the State of Maine from the Earliest Period to 1891
Volume 1
Joseph Williamson
Thurston Print, 1896
Dunton, Alvin Robbins. 1812–91. Instructor, Camden.
A True Story of the Hart-Meservey Murder Trial, in which light is thrown upon dark deeds, incompetency, and perfidy; and crime fastened upon those whose position, if not manhood, should have commanded honest dealings. By Alvin R. Dunton, Camden; author of the Duntonian system of penmanship and the oldest expert in handwriting in the United States. 

Ye who love the ways of Justice,
Who delight in noble actions,
Who believe that truth should conquer,
And that right should rule forever,
Read this story of oppression,
Read this story true and faithful. 

Published by the author. (n. p.) 1882. 12mo. pp. 309. (Two ports.) [2980

The Saint Paul Globe
May 19, 1901
Book Fast Being Made Rare.
Curious Work of Which Nearly All Copies Have Been Destroyed.
Lewiston Letter in the Boston Advertiser.
That queer book “An Innocent Man in a Felon’s Cell,” by A.R. Dunton, late of Belfast, author of the Duntonian system of penmanship, is not included in the bibliography of Maine. However, if a person should go to the state library with one of those volumes in his hand I have an idea that the institution would pay $100 or $200 for the work. Fact is, there is probably a larger premium on that book than on any other by a Maine author. For twenty years certain parties have been engaged so sedulously in destroying the books that it is scarcely ever that one is turned up. Mr. Dunton didn’t write that book in any dilettante spirit. He wrote it for a purpose and was so much in earnest that he paid for the publishing of the book, and for the most part gave the edition away. The volume is as large as the ordinary novel, and therefore it may be seen that Mr. Dunton was very much interested in what he was doing.The story is too long to tell here, and, for that matter, it is not wise to rake up too many of the details. Briefly, a woman was found murdered in a small town in Know county some twenty years ago. She had lain several days in her home when she was discovered by some of the neighbors. Beside her was a bit of paper on which was written, “I did it.”

The man who was then county attorney of Know county brought to A. R. Dunton this scrap of writing, and with it a vessel’s logbook. The attorney declared that this book had been kept by one Nathan Hicks. Mr. Dunton was at that time a well known expert in handwriting. After examination he declared unhesitatingly that the writing on the paper and in the logbook was by the same hand. He declared that it was one of the plainest propositions in chirography he ever had submitted to him. He went on the stand and testified to that effect. Hicks was sent to prison for life.

In a short time after the trial Mr. Dunton found out that deception had been practiced on him, and that he had unwittingly sworn away the liberty of now whom he had reason to believe did not kill the woman. He learned that the logbook had been written by a prominent sea captain, retired, living in the town in question. Dunton endeavored to secure a pardon for the man Hicks, but, not meeting with much success, he set about writing a book on the matter. He directly charged several lawyers with conspiracy to convict Hicks, in order that the really guilty man might go free. During the progress of the controversy Hicks died in the Maine State prison. Dunton brought out his book and for a short time it created quite a stir. But the parties who were named in such an uncomplimentary way set about buying up the books and destroying them. They claimed that they had been cruelly slandered, and asserted that they had a right to destroy one of these books whenever they came across it. They did so. If one of the men entered a home and saw one of Dunton’s books in sight anywhere, into the fire it went without a word. Situations were frequently uncomfortable for both parties, but the lawyers were determined to put these books out of existence.

The believed long ago that their object had been achieved, but a stray one of the books kept bobbing up every now and then. During the last season of the legislature one of the accusing volumes was floating about the state house to the extreme disgust of the two lawyers who were more or less prominently engaged in the work of legislation. They paid a good round price, got hold of the book after some negotiation, and destroyed it. They declared that they hadn’t seen one of the things for fifteen years. But it is likely that as some of the old Waldo county attics are rummaged the books will pop out occasionally.

The Blue Book
Containing Photographs and Sketches of a Few Commercial Teachers
L.E. Stacy
Tribune Publishing Company, 1907
E. L. Brown and W. E. Dennis studied with Dunton

History of Camden and Rockport, Maine
Reuel Robinson
Camden publishing Company, 1907
Prof. Alvin R. Dunton died this year [1891] on Oct. 8, at the age of 79 years. Prof. Dunton was born in Hope, Maine, but lived in Camden many years. He was the son of Abner Dunton and grandson of Abner Dunton, one of the first settlers of the town of Lincolnville. His father was the second child born in that town. Abner, the grandfather, was a man of giant statue and great strength. After Molineaux’s mill was established at the outlet of Lake Megunticook he was in the habit of taking his corn there to be ground. In 1787 he went to the mill across the lake on the ice and when returning hauling his meal on a sled in the dark he broke through and was drowned. The next day it was found that he had broken up a half acre of ice in his powerful efforts to save himself. The accident occurred [sic] near what is still called “Dunton’s Rock.”[1] Prof. Dunton was chiefly distinguished for his great skill as a pen artist. As a writer and teacher of penmanship he probably never has had a superior. He was the author of the Duntonian System of Penmanship, and his pen pictures prove that he was an artist of much ability. Prof. Dunton travelled extensively and taught penmanship in nearly all the states in the union, and also travelled in Europe. He also acted as an expert on hand writing and for a long time had charge of the penmanship in the Boston schools. He was the author of “The True Story of the Hart-Meservey Murder Trial,” a book of over 300 pages, in which he undertakes to prove that Nathan F. Hart was unjustly convicted of the murder of Sarah H. Meservey at Tenant’s Harbor in 1878. Prof. Dunton was a man of strong and positive convictions and possessed nerve and determination to carry his convictions into execution. He was twice married. His first wife was Elizabeth Harris and his second wife Laura Pendleton. He had no children.

Lincoln County Leader
July 1, 1910
Estabrook’s Company.
…He gave quiet attention while Estabrook explained the errand which had brought him there, but exhibited the keenest interest when he saw the company papers, the heading of which had been prepared by Alvin R. Dunton of Camden, author of the Duntonian system of penmanship, probably the finest writer of that period.

“Did you write that?” asked President Buchanan.

Estabrook made haste to disclaim the credit and explained who had done it.

“Well, that’s the finest writing I ever saw,” said the president, and he gazed at it some time, lost in admiration.

The Business Educator
September 1924
Tributes to the Late W.E. Dennis
Dennis studied with Dunton

The Flourish Forum
Dunton’s handwritten business card; forum has a detail of the card

Related Posts
Platt R. Spencer
Daniel T. Ames
John D. Williams
William E. Dennis

(Next post on Monday: Asians and Pacific Islanders and the Civil War)


  1. Alex - Great blog and want to thank you so much for the work you did on the Alvin Dunton post - I first became acquainted w/ the Hart-Meservey murder case a couple years ago and have devoured everything I can find about it since - the clipping about the "Book Fast Being Made Rare" was terrific - I actually have a copy of the original book - Dunton comes off a bit more hyperbolic than heroic but it's still a terrific - and tragic - story. There's also a wee bit of info - and some Dunton samples - in the great book "An Elegant Hand." Great work also on the Civil War blog - I maintain one myself - take care

  2. Jim – Thanks for the kind words.

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